One striking thing about Luxembourg, Malta, Cape Verde, Mauritius, and Trinidad and Tobago, is that these are fairly well-run countries that are all smaller than Toro which has a landmass of 6,932km².
What is Toro? A country? A state? Neither. Toro is a local government area in Bauchi State with a population of roughly 630,000 people. The aforementioned countries that are smaller than Toro LGA are all divided into regions, states or districts for effective governance, but in Nigeria, some state governors do not see places like Toro that have more landmass and population in some instances than some European, Caribbean and African countries as being worthy of even local government autonomy.
Nigeria’s National Assembly has been forced to abandon the Local Government Autonomy Bill that it wanted to forward along with 43 other bills to President Muhammadu Buhari for assent because it didn’t get enough buy-in from state legislative bodies to meet the provisions of the Acts Authentication Act. The LG Autonomy Bill needed to be officially accepted by 24 State Houses of Assembly to go to the next stage, but only 16 states supported it. These states were Abia, Kogi, Edo, Ogun, Katsina, Delta, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Nasarawa, Niger, Kaduna, Cross River, Osun, Enugu, Kano, and Bauchi.
The governors of the other states got their State Houses of Assembly to reject the bills that sought to give financial and administrative autonomy to local governments. And the rejection crossed tribal, regional and party lines. South-South states like Rivers and Bayelsa voted against local government autonomy. Southwest states like Ogun and Osun voted for local government autonomy, while Oyo, Lagos and Co. voted against it. This development has failed to stir the ire of Nigerians because we don’t appreciate the importance of the National Assembly.
Will these actions cost the governors and state legislators political capital back home?
Seyi Makinde and the other governors who have chosen to stifle this devolution process will not pay a political price because Nigerians do not have legislative agendas or understand the value of local government autonomy in governance and development.
How important is local government autonomy?
Well, in a conversation about governance in Nigeria, someone once said that Nigeria is like a watermelon that a child is trying to swallow whole instead of first having it cut into small manageable chunks that can be handled by the human mouth. Following this analogy, we can say that Nigeria has spent almost 40 years looking for a human with the mouth of an adult hippopotamus to “chew” Nigeria instead of simply taking a knife and slicing it into bite-sized portions which can be handled without needing to wait on the arrival of mythical creatures to save us. The analogy makes sense when you consider that Nigeria, a country with a landmass of 923,768 km², a population level of roughly 200 million people, and over 250 ethnic groups who speak over 500 languages, is trying to operate with largely centralised governance systems and cultures.
A cursory look at most mono-ethnic societies in Nigeria shows a distinct lack of social and political coherence that leads to a failure to achieve proper governance in even these areas that have a largely homogeneous tribal or religious makeup. If the mono-ethnic societies in Nigeria are struggling, then we can imagine how difficult it would be to achieve cohesion when meshing 250 ethnic groups together.
This need for “bite-sized pieces” is acknowledged and it is the reason Nigeria is divided into 36 states that are further divided into 774 local government areas (LGA), but we have not handled this with the attention it deserves. Nigerians should appreciate the importance of their state and federal legislators. We should set legislative agendas for them and be ready to reward or punish them accordingly.